‘The open secret’ about Lewis Hamilton’s potential Mercedes replacement

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc: Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc: Amongst highest paid drivers

Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc: Amongst highest paid drivers

That Charles Leclerc is speaking with Mercedes is an “open secret” but Leo Turrini can’t see that being a straight swap with Lewis Hamilton because even Max Verstappen “wouldn’t make it” in today’s Ferrari.

With neither Ferrari nor Mercedes able to challenge Red Bull, at least not at the moment, both star drivers, Leclerc and Hamilton, are said to be considering their futures.

It has pundits suggesting a straight swap with Leclerc off to Mercedes and Hamilton heading to Ferrari, which Eddie Jordan believes would be the shake up they need.

But while respected Italian journalist Turrini says Leclerc has been speaking with Mercedes while Ferrari’s president John Elkann has in the past “asked for information” about Hamilton’s contract, he doesn’t see the Briton opening the door for Leclerc unless he retires.

“That Leclerc is talking to Mercedes is the open secret,” Turrini reports. “Everyone knows it, from the remote garage in Maranello to the Indian Ocean.

“In his unfinished career, he showed flashes of pure class. He is the first to know that time is passing.

“Russell is very, very strong. But if Hamilton were to stop, whoever pays in Stuttgart might not accept another Bottas alongside a driver who is not yet a World Champion.

But that begs the question does Hamilton want to stop, given the 38-year-old has made it clear several times he has still has the ambition for number eight?

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“What would he do if he realised that he could no longer win with the Silver Arrow?” Turrini muses. “I do not know.

“On the other hand, I know that Hamilton has never been close to the Reds. There was never a negotiation. Never.

“It is true that John Elkann, who became president after Marchionne’s death, asked for information on Hamilton’s contract. We were in 2019, Vettel was almost at the end of his credits, but Lewis having won titles in a flurry running alone (copyright Alonso) was not in the least interested in the prospect.

“Today, 2023, but with the contracts in force in Maranello we are talking about 2025, the media hit would be sensational. But Ferrari needs much more than a marketing operation.”

And Hamilton, he adds, wants a car capable of fighting for race wins and that eighth World title which even Verstappen couldn’t do in today’s Ferrari.

“What could convince Hamilton to close up shop at a Scuderia that hasn’t touched the ball for almost twenty years?” he continued.

“Not the money: he is richer than Sardanapalus.

“Not the emotional challenge: a champion goes where he thinks he can be the added value that transforms podiums into victories.

“But Verstappen wouldn’t make it with the current Ferrari.”

And Turrini reckons if you put Hamilton and Verstappen in the same car, the “in my opinion the Dutchman would win”.

What’s next for Leclerc, and for Hamilton?

Contracted to Ferrari until the end of 2024, Leclerc still has time to think about what he wants to do next. And that could depend largely on what Hamilton does.

If the Briton decides to retire at the end of this season and Ferrari enforce Leclerc’s contract, which runs until the end of 2024, that’s his Mercedes opportunity gone for the next few years.

But if Hamilton continues for a season, giving himself and Mercedes one last shot at that eighth World title, Leclerc would be in prime position to replace the Briton in 2025.

Again, though, Hamilton could throw a spanner in the Monégasque driver’s career if he re-signs for two years because then Ferrari would have to ask themselves if they wanted to keep Leclerc for one additional season, knowing full well he’s potentially only using them as a stop-gap before moving to Mercedes.

Of course all this is speculation with Lando Norris also linked to the Mercedes seat, as are a few other drivers, while there are also suggestions Leclerc could join Verstappen at Red Bull come 2025.

And let’s not forgot Aston Martin with their early-season form making the Silverstone team an attractive option for the likes of Leclerc and Hamilton.